CHAMPAIGN COUNTY, Ill. (WCIA) — Six months after Champaign County’s NOAA Weather Radio tower went offline, officials now say it could be 2021 before a new one is put in place.
The radio tower based in Champaign that serves nine counties by providing forecasts and severe weather alert has been offline since February 13.
People in many of the affected counties — including Piatt, Ford, DeWitt, Douglas, Coles and Vermilion — have been able to tune into other stations in bordering areas for their weather alerts.
But not Champaign: Since the tower went offline six months ago, the county hasn’t been covered by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Weather Radio. That’s meant people in those counties haven’t been able to use weather radios to be alerted about important life saving weather information like tornado warnings, severe thunderstorm warnings, and flash flood warnings.
And while officials initially anticipated the installation of a new tower would be complete by the end of this summer, that date has been pushed back even further, according to a post from the Lincoln-based NWS.
As late as June 26, the NOAA’s Assistant Secretary of Commerce, Neil Jacobs, reassured Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville) that “reliable service” would be “restored in summer 2020.”
The delay, however, comes from a legal backlog at NOAA, Lincoln-based NWS Warning Coordination Meteorologist Chris Miller said.
A “suitable location” for the radio tower was found as early as March — just a month after the tower had been taken offline due to a repeated need for constant repairs.
The tower owners and NOAA’s property department “have been working on a lease agreement for the NWS to use space on the tower to install our equipment,” Miller said.
“The last we heard, the final details of the lease were talked about, but now it is caught up in the backlog of work that NOAA legal people and the tower owner’s lawyers are working through,” he said, adding that the NWS “already has the equipment/parts to get the installation done quickly, get it tested, and back on the air.”
“Bottom line: it is in the hands of the lawyers right now.”
So how long will talks between NOAA lawyers and tower owner lawyers last?
“We have no idea how long this will take to get through the legal process,” Miller said.
WCIA is launching a “Target 3” investigation into why this is taking so long.
On Tuesday we reached out to area representatives and received a response from the office of Congressman Rodney Davis, seen below.
“Thanks for reaching out on this. Our staff who have communicated with NOAA in the past are still waiting for a follow-up response on this issue. I believe we most recently reached out to them yesterday. We are seeking a formal update from NOAA and advocating for a quick resolution.Aaron DeGroot
For your reference, Rodney wrote a letter to NOAA on 5/22/20 (which is attached in a PDF) and received a reply from NOAA on 6/26/20 (also attached in a PDF).
I will keep you posted if we hear any updates from NOAA. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you ever need anything from me or Rodney.”
Congressman Rodney Davis (IL-13)
We are going to continue to push for answers on this and hope to get a resolution sooner than later.
WCIA 3 Chief meteorologist Kevin Lighty says we are heading towards the secondary severe weather season in central Illinois this October/November and we are hoping this life saving public service will be restored before that occurs.